Title: The Market, Agenda Publishing and Columbia University Press, 2018.
Back Cover Blurb: "We have become accustomed to economists and politicians talking about 'market forces' as if they are immutable laws of the universe. But what exactly is 'the market'? Originally an abstract idea from economic theory - the locus of demand and supply - it has come to inform the way we speak about our relationship to the economic system as a whole. Matthew Watson unpacks the concept to ask what does it really mean to allow ourselves to submit to market forces. And does economic theory really provide insights into the market institutions that shape our everyday life? In tackling these questions, the book provides a major contribution to a deeper appreciation of the dominant economic language of our time, challenging the idea that we can simply defer to the 'logic of the market'."
"A masterpiece of erudition and concision, Matthew Watson's new book lifts the lid on a concept whose ubiquity in public discourse is matched only by its slipperiness. With immense skill, Watson explores the ways in which the idea of 'the market' has developed within the field of economics and in so doing teases out the complex relationships between academic abstraction of the market concept and the prevalence of market ideology in politics. The result is a truly impressive book that should be regarded as a vital supplement to standard economics textbooks and essential reading for anyone interested in understanding whether there are alternatives to the 'iron cage' of the market." - Professor Ben Rosamond, University of Copenhagen
"Watson has provided a history of the economic ideas that form the basis of modern economics, brilliantly explaining where many of the economic laws and concepts central to the idea of the market originated ... there are very few texts on the market that are as good as this." - Dr Huw Macartney, University of Birmingham
Title: Uneconomic Economics and the Crisis of the Model World, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
Back Cover Blurb: "Matthew Watson analyses the political response to imploding markets through the lens of the history of economic thought, asking 'what has gone wrong with economics?' against the backdrop of the global financial crisis. The most important historical trend, he suggests, is the development of an 'uneconomic economics', whereby attention is placed on explaining relationships in perfectly efficient blackboard markets rather than the much more chaotic institutions encountered in everyday economic interactions. Economists now routinely devise sophisticated abstract models which are theoretically rigorous but fail to capture the way everyday economic decisions are actually undertaken. Acknowledging the gap between the model world and the real world led many commentators to initially pronounce that the financial crisis was equally a crisis of economics. Watson shows, though, that the subsequent redefinition of the crisis as a problem of over-extended state spending has successfully rehabilitated the model world of orthodox economics opinion."
"To control the forces shaping our economic future, we have first to understand those shaping our immediate past. Mainstream economics claims to do that, but as this important book shows, that claim is false. Matthew Watson has written an invaluable guide to the limits of orthodox economics thinking on the 2007/8 financial crisis. It is a guide that, if read widely, will help sustain an informed citizenry on both sides of the Atlantic. Ideas matter, and the ideas discussed here matter more than most." - Professor David Coates, Worrell Professor of Anglo-American Studies, Wake Forest University, US.
"Matthew Watson's elegant and trenchant analysis shines a fiercely critical and deeply scholarly light on the profound relationship between the practices of financial markets, the modes of thought typical of orthodox economics and post-crisis policy thinking. Written with admirable clarity and concision, it stands as one of the very best - and certainly one of the most important - books yet written on the global financial crisis." - Professor Ben Rosamond, Professor of Political Science, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
Title: 'The Great Transformation and Progressive Possibilities: The Political Limits of Polanyi's Marxian History of Economic Ideas', Economy and Society, 43 (4), 2014, 603-625. This article is available in full open accessLink opens in a new window. Despite only being published in the final issue of the year, this article was featured on Routledge's Most Read website, which provided access to the three most downloaded papers from each of its social science journals for 2014.
Abstract: Karl Polanyi’s Great Transformation remains one of the stand-out texts of twentieth-century political economy, yet it contains important conceptual ambiguities. Perhaps most significantly, the later chapters reveal the influence of his own notion of an ‘always embedded economy’, but the earlier chapters are constructed around a much more abstract conception of ‘economy’ derived from an essentially Marxian history of economic ideas. Marx worked within the basic Ricardian conception of economy as a method of immanent critique, but then proceeded to also project it backwards onto pre-Ricardian traditions of economics. Polanyi did likewise, I argue, consequently missing the opportunity to connect his own notion of an always embedded economy to pre-Ricardian studies of the substantive basis of functioning economic relations. I use the following pages to try to restore one such link, in this instance to Adam Smith’s account of the moral ‘sympathy’ underpinning the process of market coordination. This reconstruction also has implications for progressive political possibilities today. Polanyian responses to the ongoing crisis have tended to be framed by the basic Ricardian conception of economy and have accordingly been restricted to a discussion of more market or less, more austerity or less. By contrast, tracing the lineage from pre-Ricardian concerns to Polanyi’s notion of an always embedded economy allows the much more potentially radical question to be asked of what sort of economic relations best serve essential human needs.
Title: 'Re-Establishing What Went Wrong Before: The Greenspan Put as Macroeconomic Modellers' New Normal', Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies, 7 (July), 2014, 80-101. This article is available in full open accessLink opens in a new window.
Abstract: Almost a decade after his retirement Alan Greenspan remains the world's most immediately recognisable and highest profile central banker. His opinions therefore still matter, even if it is no longer his decisions that move markets. This article reviews Greenspan's ostensible move away from efficient markets theorising as he has tried to come to terms with the patterns of 'euphoria' and 'fear' he believes explain the build-up to the global financial crisis. In truth, though, it looks much more like an attempt to rescue the reputation of his free market models in the face of an increasing number of sceptics. Greenspan's new memoire fails to acknowledge what, in effect, was the free put option the Federal Reserve provided to Wall Street traders under his leadership. Indeed, it goes as far as to promote a visualisation technique for how macroeconomic modellers should view the basic structure of the market environment which treats the now increasingly infamous 'Greenspan put' as an ostensibly formal component of asset prices. The style of policy-making that helped to stoke such extreme asset price inflation prior to the crisis is now embedded (i) within the class of models that Greenspan has presented as the post-crisis antidote to efficient markets theorising and (ii) within the recent historical data being used in the calibration tests of the models' efficacy. What macroeconomic modellers can see in the market environment when embracing the supposedly new reality of euphoria and fear is a manifestation of what the prior existence of the Greenspan put first brought into view.
Title: 'Historicising Ricardo's Comparative Advantage Theory, Challenging the Normative Foundations of Liberal IPE', New Political Economy, 22 (3), 2017, 257-272. This article is available in full open accessLink opens in a new window.
Abstract: David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage is now two centuries old, but it remains at the heart of economists’ theories of international trade. It also continues to provide the underlying economic ethic for liberal IPE. Ricardo’s numerical illustration of the mutually shared gains from specialisation and trade involved complementary structures of comparative advantage being exhibited by a productively superior hypothetical 'Portugal' and a productively inferior hypothetical 'England'. Yet the historical back-story of actual eighteenth-century trading relations between the two countries reveals Portugal’s repeated struggles to meet its treaty obligations to the English in the context of the European quest for empire. Those difficulties persisted even when it harnessed its (less profitable) commercial trade to (much more profitable) slave trading practices. Ricardo’s account of the purely mathematical logic of comparative advantage writes out of economic history the centrality of both imperial wars and African slavery to the early English and Portuguese experience of 'free' trade. Given this historical back-story, liberal IPE thus appears to be in urgent need of new normative foundations to decouple it from these highly illiberal economic processes.
Title: 'Rousseau's Crusoe Myth: The Unlikely Provenance of the Neoclassical Homo Economicus', Journal of Cultural Economy, 10 (1), 2017, 81-96. This article is available in full open accessLink opens in a new window.
Abstract: The neoclassical homo economicus has escaped the narrow confines of economic theory and is today embodied countless times over in the everyday behaviour that so much of the modern economy is set up precisely to serve. Not all of the authors of leading books on economic principles have named the neoclassical homo economicus, but when they have done so it is overwhelmingly in the same way. They have given him the human form of a Robinson Crusoe figure, despite the fact that his behavioural motivations and his practical conduct owe next-to-nothing to Daniel Defoe's original characterisation. I suggest that the route to today's cultural familiarity with the neoclassical homo economicus instead passes through the entirely unwitting hands of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He substituted Defoe's account of the castaway's continuing deference to prevailing social norms with his own idealised vision of how the individual might use solitude to escape the corrupting influences of modern society. It is altogether another desocialised individual also bearing the Crusoe name who has latterly shaped many of the economics textbooks' renderings of the neoclassical homo economicus. However, we can get to him only by first understanding the essential features of Rousseau's Crusoe myth.
Title: 'George Osborne's Machonomics', British Politics, 12 (4), 2017, 536-554. DOI: 10.1057/s41293-017-0059-3. A view-only version of the full text is availableLink opens in a new window from Springer Nature's Shared It function. The paginated versionLink opens in a new window is also available for those who are able to login to the journal's website.
Abstract: Feminist scholars have described the behavioural traits that have flourished within the global economy in terms of a hegemonic ‘I know best’ masculinity. Whilst this literature has typically focused on a small number of business leaders around whom popular myths of wealth creation have developed, the same way of thinking might also be applied to policy-makers. At the very least, this study of George Osborne’s time as UK Chancellor of the Exchequer reveals how consistently he adopted the mantle of an omniscient hegemonic masculine subject in his approach to deficit reduction. It was an attitude to the task at hand I label ‘machonomics’. This concept is designed to mean more than that the outcomes of his austerity programme disproportionately disadvantaged women. It also captures the type of policy-maker that Osborne tried so hard to convince others he was. His self-projection finds a parallel, I argue, in what the macroeconomic theory literature describes as the specifically ‘conservative policy-maker’, someone reputed for trusting his own judgement even in the face of widespread dissent against his anti-social policies. The conservative policy-maker exudes the hegemonic masculinity that Osborne embodied in his refusal to voice opinions in public suggesting that there were viable alternatives to painful public expenditure cuts.
Title: 'Brexit, the Left Behind and the Let Down: The Political Abstraction of 'the Economy' and the UK's EU Referendum', British Politics, 13 (1), 2018, 17-30. DOI: 10.1057/s41293-017-0062-8. A view-only version of the full text is available from Springer Nature's Shared ItLink opens in a new window function. The paginated versionLink opens in a new window is also available for those who are able to login to the journal's website.
Abstract: UK voters' decision to overturn the country's European Union membership has left most parliamentarians looking rather distant from the constituents they represent. The politicians staked much on assuming that people would not vote to sabotage their economic self-interest, but this message conspicuously failed to resonate. When politicians spoke in abstract terms about the needs of 'the economy', significant numbers understood this to mean labour market conditions that have personally served them badly. It has been commonplace since the referendum to refer to these people as the 'left behind'. However, they might more usefully be descrbed as the 'let down'. Since the restructuring of the UK economy in line with global competitiveness norms they have been required to earn their rights as citizens through demonstrating their work readiness. Yet hard work on its own is now no longer sufficient for so many people to receive the rewards promised under the terms of the new social contract. They have been largely abandoned to their fate by the politicians as labour market segmentation has led to a significant expansion of the in-work poor. These people voted in large numbers against continued EU membership. This suggests that the referendum result can be seen at least in part as a revolt against the way in which the abstraction of 'the economy' has informed UK politics in recent decades.
Title: 'Crusoe, Friday and the Raced Market Frame of Orthodox Economics Textbooks', New Political Economy, 23 (5), 544-559. DOI 10.1080/13563467.2017.1417367. Article published on the NPE website in full open accessLink opens in a new window format.
Abstract: 'Crusoe' and 'Friday' signifiers necessarily evoke a world of racialised hierarchies. Economics textbooks are perhaps the sole remaining medium to simply wish away their resulting relations of power. These are the teaching aids that inspire students analytically to think of markets as pristine economic institutions and persuade them politically that they should want to will such institutions into being. Yet they all-too-often rely on the pedagogical device of the so-called Robinson Crusoe Economy, where the main characters from Defoe's most famous novel are required to instinctively recognise their equality within voluntary contracting agreements so that each can act as the neoclassical homo economicus. In other words, economists' Crusoe and Friday figures must behave antithetically to what has historically been implied by the 'Cruose' and 'Friday' signifiers. But how can this be so, given how commonplace it was when Defoe's characters were first introduced into economic theory in the 1850s to justify white settler colonialism on the grounds that 'savage' societies lacked the capacity to be self-governing? The raced market frame that emerged in practice from this assumption continues to be reproduced uncritically today by Crusoe's and Friday's presence in the textbook explanation of the most basic model of market exchange.
Title: 'New Directions in the International Political Economy of Energy', Review of International Political Economy, 26 (1), 2019, 1-24. It has a DOI of 10.1080/09692290.2018.1553796 (https://doi.org/10.1080/09692290.2018.1553796Link opens in a new window).
This is the Introduction to a special section of the Review of International Political Economy, co-authored with Caroline KuzemkoLink opens in a new window and Andrew LawrenceLink opens in a new window. The aim of the special section is to show how energy markets are changing: in essence, in scale, in constitution, in spatial characteristics and in distributional implications. Energy markets are today bigger than ever before, in that they now encompass an ever wider range of actors and sites of interaction. They are also almost certainly more complex institutional entities than at any previous time in their history. When politicians express faith in 'the market' to cater for all of their energy needs, then, they are now typically doing so whilst the exchange relations conducted between energy buyers and energy sellers look to be modelled less and less on the pure abstraction of 'the market'.
Title: 'Michael Gove’s War on Professional Historical Expertise: Conservative Curriculum Reform, Extreme Whig History and the Place of Imperial Heroes in Modern Multicultural Britain’, British Politics, 15 (3), 2020, 271-290. DOI: 10.1057/s41293-019-00118-3. Fully open access at the journal's website.
Abstract: Six years of continuously baiting his opponents within the history profession eventually amounted to little where it mattered most. UK Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, finally backtracked in 2013 on his plans to impose a curriculum for English schools based on a linear chronology of the achievements of British national heroes. His ‘history as celebration’ curriculum was designed to instil pride amongst students in a supposedly shared national past, but would merely have accentuated how many students in modern multicultural Britain fail to recognise themselves in what is taught in school history lessons. Now that the dust has settled on Gove’s tenure as Secretary of State, the time is right for retrospective analysis of how his plans for the history curriculum made it quite so far. How did he construct an ‘ideological’ conception of expertise which allowed him to go toe-to-toe for so long with the ‘professional’ expertise of academic historians and history teachers? What does the content of this ideological expertise tell us about the politics of race within Conservative Party curriculum reforms? This article answers these questions to characterise Gove as a ‘whig historian’ of a wilfully extreme nature in his attachment to imperial heroes as the best way to teach national history in modern multicultural Britain.
Title: 'Financialization, State Action and the Contested Policy Practices of Neoliberalism’, Competition and Change, with Craig Berry and Inga Rademacher, 26 (2), 2022, 215-219. DOI: 10.1177/10245294221086864/.
Abstract: The view that neoliberalism has become, and remains, the dominant ideology of economic statecraft in most parts of the world is widespread within critical social science scholarship. But there is no settled view on the nature of ‘the neoliberal state’. Is there such a thing? Despite many scholars’ confidence in the influence of neoliberalism on economic and social policy across many countries, the sheer diversity of policy practices and institutional structures to which the label ‘neoliberal’ has been applied means the archetypal state form of neoliberalism is difficult to discern. This is partly because the defining characteristics of neoliberalism are contested (allowing some to claim the category is redundant as anything other than a broad heuristic). And it is partly because of the concurrence of a widespread adherence to neoliberal ideas and the process of financialization (allowing some to claim that the category has been overtaken in importance in explanatory terms). The response to the pandemic has muddied the waters still further. There are now lots of suggestions that there can be ‘no going back’ to the economic world as it was before. But when it is so difficult to specify what the characteristics of that world were, problems obviously arise in describing what lies beyond it.
Title: ‘Decolonising the School Curriculum in an Era of Political Polarisation’, London Review of Education, with Shahnaz Akhter, 20 (1), 1-7. DOI: https://doi.org/10.14324/LRE.20.1.27. Available in fully open access format.
Abstract: Recent consciously curated conditions of political polarisation have prevented English schools from taking even the first tentative steps towards decolonising the curriculum. Since returning to power in 2010, successive Conservative Secretaries of State for Education have resolved to restore traditional learning methods to English classrooms, championing the need for children to passively accept content chosen for them by government appointees who are answerable to political rather than to pedagogical priorities. This had already created an unsupportive political environment for transforming what children might learn, before such difficulties were magnified following the Brexit referendum of 2016. Decolonisation has increasingly been identified by Conservative Party strategists as one of their beloved wedge issues, something that can be used to stoke electorally expedient anger against ‘the Remainer elite’ among Leave-voting communities. Hopes for a serious debate about the principles of decolonisation were frustrated by the Johnson government hijacking the very mention of the word to use as evidence that the ‘woke’ brigade was running hopelessly out of control. The case for decolonising the English school curriculum has been subjected to a full-frontal populist culture-war attack on an educational establishment accused of refusing to allow children to see the good in their country.
Title: ‘The Place of Glasgow in The Wealth of Nations: Caught between Biography and Text, Philosophical and Commercial History’, History of Political Economy, 54 (5), 2022, 975-990. DOI: 10.1215/00182702-10005816.
Abstract: Adam Smith’s biographers have been in no doubt how important his experiences of living and working amongst Glasgow’s merchant community were to the content of The Wealth of Nations. Many Smith scholars who themselves have been based in the city go further. They insist on the essential Scottishness of the text, seeing Glasgow as the indispensable intermediary between lowland Scotland’s town-and-country dynamics and its insertion into global trading routes. However, Glasgow plays no explicit part in the way Smith chose to construct his arguments. I use this juxtaposition between the fundamental feeling that a work can elicit for a particular reading community and the words that actually appear on the page to ask the methodological question of how to proceed when encountering an apparent absence in a text. The reader does not possess a privileged access point from which to offer correctives by way of asserting that certain knowledge should have been present even though it is not. An absence from the text does not equate to missing text in the form of an obviously anomalous omission. Studies of the historical backdrop against which Smith was writing cannot be given the same authority when interpreting The Wealth of Nations as his direct communication to the reader of his views on the relationship between text and context. We may know more than he chose to reveal about his social and cultural embeddedness within the Glaswegian merchant community, but at most this knowledge can only provide an extra perspective when the matter at hand is textual interpretation. It is not a direct substitute for what Smith chose not to say.
Extract from text: My main concern is what happens to Hay and Payne's carefully thought-through reform agenda [for a Civic Capitalism] if the object of that reform is not as they specify it. The reader learns much about what it would take to promote a distinctly civic variant of capitalism, and the resulting vision is certainly one in which an increasingly civilized tone will be struck in the relationship between one person and another, as well as between people and nature. An instinct to care is being promoted, one where voluntary acquiescence to the new norm would be the first-best option but where behavioural change through legal statute is a more than acceptable second best. However, halting the advance of market ideology cannot be relied upon, on its own, to civilize everyday economic relations. I do worry that the economic structures of contemporary British capitalism do not look like those of the classical market stereotype and that this might make access to the civic mission very difficult indeed.
Extract from text: For anyone who is returning to [Casino Capitalism] for the first time in a number of years, it is a delight to be reacquainted with the nuance of a historical perspective that emphasises the significance of decisions that could have been taken but were not just as much as the decisions that were actually taken (pp.47-58). History thus comes alive as a highly politicised lens in Strange’s hands through the analysis of alternatives that were available but were overlooked simply because they did not fit the prevailing political mentality. For anyone coming to this work for the first time, there will consequently by many moments of revelation. Even though a self-consciously theoretical voice was so often written out of Strange’s work, younger generations of IPE scholars will find on repeated occasions that her texts speak to them in a language that helps to confirm their own subsequent theoretical choices. Strange’s ‘amateur history’ thus pre-empts a good deal of IPE’s future, in its concern for both the way in which the financial system was becoming a repository for political power and for how this made more and more people susceptible in their everyday lives to the whims of financial market pricing dynamics.
Extract from text: The great merit to be found in Robbie Shilliam's book is just how clearly his voice comes across. He explores the lineage of repeated political attempts in Britain from the eighteenth century onwards to bracket off 'the deserving poor' from the broader category of 'the poor' in general. Some marker of difference must be called upon to distinguish those who do from those who do not merit political sympathy for their plight and state support to lessen their day-to-day grind of making ends meet. Shilliam shows that, often, the simple characteristic of what you look like was enough for a person of colour to be relegated from the deserving category. At other times, behaivoural traits became the means of differentiation, but assumptions relating to the propensity to display proscribed behaviour have been so frequently racialised that this symbol of exclusion has also been reduced to the issue of skin colour. Race and the Undeserving Poor demonstrates how practices of British working-class respectability have historically been inscribed with underlying images of whiteness.
Title: 'Vision and Ideology in Economic Theory: The Post-Crisis Persistence of Mainstream General Equilibrium Macroeconomics', in Bob Jessop and Karim Knio (eds) (2018) The Pedagogy of Economic, Political and Social Crises: Dynamics, Construals and Lessons, London: Routledge, pp. 105-120.
Extract from text: The problem facing mainstream macroeconomics is that competitive pricing dynamics are now treated as the norm on both sides of the Schumpeterian divide between vision and ideology. It is the assumption of competitive pricing dynamics that makes DSGE models thinkable in the first instance; it is their methodological condition of possibility. Yet this same assumption now routinely informs policy recommendations from DSGE modellers on how best to manage economic relations. What might originally have been merely a set of tools to guide attempts to make sense of the world in abstract terms have since become increasingly difficult to disentangle from the assertion that competitive pricing is essential to the efficient allocation of scarce resources in the modern economy. Initially, the assumption of continuous market-clearing dynamics was just a means of making the mathematics of a purely hypothetical general equilibrium model operable. Increasingly, however, this same assumption is invoked to justify remaking economic institutions and attitudes so that the world operates just like the model.
Title: ‘‘The Market’: Eighteenth-Century Insights into the Performance of Market Practices’, in Shirin Rai, Milija Gluhovic, Silvija Jestrovic and Michael Saward (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Politics and Performance, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021, pp. 265-277.
Extract from text: ‘The market’ has no independent objective existence beyond the practices that are embedded within particular market institutions. Those practices, in turn, involve learning particular techniques of performance, on the assumption that each market environment rewards a corresponding type of market agency. However, the ability to reflect what might be supposed the right agential characteristics is not an instinct that is hard-wired into us from birth. Instead it comes from perfecting the specific performance elements which allow people to recognise themselves as potentially competent actors in any given market context. This chapter takes the reader back to some of the earliest accounts of these performance elements, showing that important eighteenth-century debates about how to flourish as a market actor revolved around little else. In the early eighteenth century, Daniel Defoe emphasised the need for market actors to create convincing falsehoods, hiding their true feelings behind a presentation of self where customers’ whims were always catered to. In the late eighteenth century, Adam Smith was still wrestling with the dilemma of how genuinely the self could be put on display within market environments, believing that customers had a responsibility to curb excessive demands so that merchants’ interests could be respected. This meant not forcing them into knowingly false declarations, so that moral propriety and economic expedience were not necessarily antagonistic forces in the development of merchants’ character.
Extract from text: The publication in 1719 of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is typically treated as the originating moment of the specifically individualistic English novel. Unusually for the time, its central character was animated by neither love nor honour, but by straightforward economic self-preferment. It was this sense of priority that made Crusoe so attractive to the early marginalist economists a century and a half later. However, the rise of the English novel is inseparable from the rise of the British Empire, occurring at the same time and being framed by the same political mindset. Crusoe acts as if it is simply his right of being born English to take as his possession everything he encounters after his shipwreck on the island. It is his white colonist’s unqualified claim on property that has subsequently brought the story to the attention of a later generation of postcolonial writers. The fact that he has no doubts about the legitimacy of extending his claim on property to include Friday has proved particularly susceptible to postcolonial critique. The original novel was written as an imperial fantasy, and in Defoe’s hands Crusoe’s economic individualism is indivisible from his status first as colonial settler and then as colonial master. The ‘Crusoe’ and ‘Friday’ signifiers are now so culturally familiar as symbols of a prior imperial age that the recognition of how unreflexively they continue to be used in economics textbooks today still comes as something of a shock. It is difficult to understand the thought process that allows Defoe’s characters to be presented as paragons of individualism whilst having had all of their accompanying imperial history assumed away. At a time of unparalleled demands across the social sciences for the curriculum to be decolonised, surely economics students deserve rather more from their textbooks.